What steps can you take to become a Crime Scene Investigator or Forensic Scientist? We have outlined the four steps you should take to get one of these fascinating careers: Learn, Prepare, Apply and Test.
What does a Crime Scene Investigator do? What skills, knowledge and abilities are required? What education and experience is needed to qualify for the job?
The answers depend on the exact job you apply for and the agency that offers the job. Read the job summaries of the job openings listed on the Employment page. This will give you an idea of the variety of responsibilities the employee will have as well as the minimum requirements to apply for the job.
Also, read over the material on the Crime-Scene-Investigator.net (this website). There is a variety of information that will help you understand the job of a Crime Scene Investigator. One article, Duty Description for the Crime Scene Investigator, by Mike Byrd of the Miami-Dade Police Department Crime Scene Investigations Unit, gives a good description of what a Crime Scene Investigator does on the job.
One of the best things you can do is to contact agencies in the geographical area you wish to work and find out what their Crime Scene Investigators do on the job, what their minimum requirements for applying are, and how often the have job openings.
Are there Crime Scene Technician jobs available?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, a "forensic science technician" is a person employed to "collect, identify, classify, and analyze physical evidence related to criminal investigations" (this would include crime scene technicians who work in the field and technicians who work in the crime laboratory). The Bureau's Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, states: "Jobs for forensic science technicians are expected to increase by 20 percent, which is much faster than average. Employment growth in State and local government should be driven by the increasing application of forensic science techniques, such as DNA analysis, to examine, solve, and prevent crime." The report also points out: "In addition to job openings created by growth, many openings should arise from the need to replace technicians who retire or leave the labor force for other reasons."
In 2006 CNNMoney.com named forensic science technicians in its list of the Top 10 Fastest-growing Fields, where it ranked at number six.
In May 2013 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the mean hourly wage was $27.57 and the mean annual wage was $57,340 (annual wages at the 10 percentile were $32,570 and the 90 percentile were $88,880) for forensic science technicians. (Read the Bureau of Labor Statistics report)
Some recent job openings posted on this website have the following pay scales listed:
This website posts job openings. There are usually about 500 openings posted at all times. These listings include Crime Scene Investigation and Forensic Science jobs. You can read through the job openings on the employment page to see what types of jobs are available, and what the requirements are for the different positions.
Some positions require you have a 4 year degree in science while others only require a GED or High School graduation. Generally, if you want to work in a crime laboratory as a Criminalist you will need at least a 4 year degree in science (such as Biology, Chemistry or Forensic Science). If you want to be a Crime Scene Technician you usually need less formal education. Some agencies require you be a sworn police officer before becoming a Crime Scene Investigator—most do not.
If the position you want requires formal training then check your local colleges and universities. Many community colleges have Criminal Justice classes that include crime scene investigations. Search for other campus based college or university program here: Campus Based CSI and Forensic Programs
Can I get training online to become a Crime Scene Technician?
You can also make yourself more marketable by earning a degree in Crime Scene Investigations or Forensic Science online from a college with a respected program. Many online programs can be completed in less time than traditional campus based programs. Examples of respected online programs include (click on the links to receive free, no obligation, information):
NOTE: The availability of each program is dependant on your zip code. Not all programs are available in every location. Program outcomes vary according to each institution's specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.
Other related areas of study include (click on the topic to see lists of online colleges and universities offering these programs):
Complete listings of Colleges and Universities offering programs in CSI and Forensics:
Regardless of what the education and experience are for the job you are seeking, there are some things you can do to prepare for the job and the interview. Again, reading over the material on this website will give you some information. But if you really want to be prepared, you must do more. As a person who interviews candidates for law enforcement jobs I can tell you that agencies are inclined to give jobs to those who have a clear understanding of the job they are applying for, and have done something to prepare themselves for the job.
One way to gain knowledge and be able to show you have prepared yourself is to read the right books. I strongly recommend you read the following books before interviewing for the job (and be sure you tell those interviewing you that you have read these books).
First, a book that tells about the science of crime scene investigation:
Techniques of Crime Scene Investigation, 8th Edition by Barry A.J. Fisher (June 15, 2012)
Techniques of Crime Scene Investigation, Eighth Edition examines concepts, field-tested techniques and procedures, and technical information concerning crime scene investigation. This comprehensive text has been widely adopted by police academies, community colleges, and universities. Three professional organizations (the International Association for Identification, the American Board of Criminalistics, and the Forensic Science Society) recommend this book as a text to prepare for their certification examinations. Order this book from Amazon.com
As you read through the job announcements, you will see that two areas are frequently mentioned. They are photography and fingerprints. Some even require photographic skills to apply. If you have little or no photographic skill, find a book on basic photography, get a camera, and learn photography. You should consider a basic photography class at a community college. Then you should learn about crime scene and evidence photography. For a book on crime scene and evidence photography we recommend:
Crime Scene and Evidence Photography, 2nd Edition by Steven Staggs (2014) ($49.95)
Crime Scene and Evidence Photography is designed for those responsible for photography at the crime scene and in the laboratory. It may be used by law enforcement officers, investigators, crime scene technicians, and forensic scientists. It contains instructions for photographing a variety of crime scenes and various types of evidence. It is a valuable reference tool when combined with training and experience. Crime Scene and Evidence Photography is also a helpful resource for students and others interested in entering into the field of crime scene investigation. Order this title directly from the publisher and receive a 20% discount ($39.96).
For a good foundation on comparing fingerprints, you should read (and work through the quizzes in the book):
Introduction to Fingerprint Comparison by Gary W. Jones (October 16, 2000) ($29.95)
Introduction to Fingerprint Comparison was written by retired FBI Supervisory Fingerprint Specialist Gary W. Jones. This book is a valuable text in learning the basic skills in fingerprint comparison. Examples and quizzes give the reader a solid foundation on which to build comparison skills. Order this title directly from the publisher and receive a 10% discount ($26.95).
Have a good resume. Even if the agency does not require a resume, attach one to the application. It can make the difference in getting an interview and even the job.
Check for job openings on the employment page. To be notified of job openings as they are posted, follow us on Twitter or sign up for daily email notifications. To sign up for the Crime Scene Investigator Newsletter and receive monthly notifications, go to the subscribe to the newsletter page.
Many agencies will require you to pass a written examination followed by an interview.
Be sure you do your homework before you have your interview. Learn about the agency and the community it serves. A favorite question asked in interviews is "What do you know about our department and what do you know about our community?" Be prepared to answer the typical questions.
Two articles on this website give tips on preparing for an interview:
Do you have more questions about becoming a Crime Scene Investigator, or about crime Scene investigations? Ask your questions on the Crime Scene Investigator Forum.
Crime scene investigations is an interesting and worthwhile career. We wish you the best in your endeavors.